My Journey to Joy

January 9, 2014

Suffering

Filed under: Shared Findings — aunthoddy @ 5:00 AM
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“How can I get upset about something that’s gonna’ make me like Jesus?”  -Dr. Ken Hutcherson

I was so moved by this amazing testimony!  You can hear the interview here:

Hutch on Suffering

 

April 20, 2013

Ann Voskamp on Suffering

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But Becomers, they don’t pull away from the suffering but lean into it, “knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint” (Ro. 5:1)  and there is no. other. way. You can’t call yourself Christian, one of Christ’s, and live trying to make wide circles around pain.  You don’t close your eyes to the hurting, pretend the wounded don’t exist.

To follow Christ means to follow Christ into suffering, not onto easy street.

To be a Christian means to suffer — that’s what Christ did.

February 13, 2013

God, Why Won’t You Heal? by Steve Bundy

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http://ht.ly/hd34T

February 29, 2012

Infertility: Mastery or Mystery?

Filed under: Shared Findings,Uncategorized — aunthoddy @ 5:00 AM
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Infertility. A word of broken dreams, of emptiness. A word deriving its meaning from the opposite of what we might consider “good” or “normal.” After all, does not God intend for us to be fruitful and multiply, to be “fertile”? Is it not his desire that we bear biological children with whom we will share our family histories and our faith? For many couples, these expectations and desires go unmet, producing a unique form of suffering.

 Consider the woman whom ushers awkwardly bypass as they hand out Mother’s Day carnations at church. The very absence of this flower captures the suffering of “non-presence” experienced by infertile couples. As such, this woman bears a visible announcement of her suffering as she goes through that morning self-consciously flower-less, staring on – perhaps in envy and grief – as the seeming abundant carnations of her sisters in Christ are grabbed, flung about and ruined by joyful children. Think of the man unable to attend something as simple as a father-daughter breakfast. Another isolation.

Many couples have benefited from tremendous medical advances and been able to conceive and bear children. Others have not. Due to the prevalence of the condition of infertility, many of you, if not directly affected by the condition, will have walked with other couples on a journey of infertility. Many have vicariously tasted bitterness and disappointment, occasional joy and relief.

The Mystery of Infertility

 Compare the Bible’s treatment of the topic of infertility as mystery to society’s approach – the pursuit of mastery. As Christians in the Reformed tradition, we heartily and gladly confess that the creator God is from first to last powerful and wise. But this omnipotence does not require Him to explain himself or His ways to us fully, either through Scripture or creation. While the Bible does not spell out scientific details regarding many of the complex questions that relate to infertility, it does address the question more frequently than we might think. The Old Testament is replete with stories of family, genealogies and childbirth. Think of all those “begats” in Genesis and 1 Chronicles! People in the ancient world generally spoke of fertility in agricultural terms, conceiving of reproduction as the male planting a seed (wherein existed the potential human) into the fertile field of the female (the womb). There, in the womb, the planted human would grow. In Old Testament poetry we find familiar metaphors of “knitting” (Ps 139:13), and “curdling” followed by “clothing” with skin and flesh (Job 10:10) to describe what happens in the womb. The overwhelming teaching of the Scriptures is that the all-wise God – the one doing the knitting, curdling and clothing – controls the womb. Though firmly in the control of the powerful and wise God, what actually happened in the womb is described through metaphor, not in scientific nor precise language.

In the ancient world, the womb remained a place of immense mystery. We find a surprising number of examples of infertility– barrenness, if you will – in the Old Testament, which does not refrain from painting a stark picture of the resulting emotional and social struggles. We find many examples of barren godly women (Hannah, Elizabeth, Sarah), so barrenness – and this is important to remember—was not inherently a sign of punishment upon an individual. But given the ancient cultural setting, even godly women experienced shame if they could not bear children. Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah pled with God to remove the stigma of barrenness from them. Think of Hannah’s distress and bitter weeping in 1 Sam 1:4-11. This is a woman persistent in prayer, begging Israel’s God for the blessing of a child, going so far as to offer the child to God’s service if only he would remove her stigma (1 Sam 1:11, 22). She is wholly dependant on God as the sole source of life. We find in Hannah an attitude of humility, not a forgone conclusion that God owes her anything—merely a trust that He can bless her, should He choose to. In other words, Hannah is not attempting to figure out the answer, just move the Almighty! As bio-ethicist C. Ben Mitchell writes, “…trials, including infertility, are sometimes brought into believers’ lives as an encouragement to pray.”

Couples facing infertility can relate directly to these experiences of Old Testament saints. What might the overall story of the Bible tell us about how to embrace the mystery of life and infertility? We can look at this from two angles: the question of God’s identity, and the question of suffering in this world. Does it make any difference, for example, that Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel – the beloved wives of the three protagonists in Genesis – are all portrayed as barren (Gen 16:1, 18:11, 25:21, 29:31)? While couples facing infertility may take some comfort in the honest depiction of these women, the book of Genesis does not primarily speak to the experience of infertility, but the identity of the God worthy of the readers’ worship. Scripture paints this portrait of Yahweh: we serve and worship a God who mysteriously brings life and promise to death-and-despair situations. Beyond Genesis, how does the God of the Bible culminate his restoration story? In Jesus Christ taking on flesh, coming in weakness to inaugurate his Kingdom through the suffering of the cross, bringing forgiveness of sin, the victory of his resurrection (1 Cor 15:1-4), and sending the Spirit as the certain guarantee of Christ’s final victory (2 Cor 1:22).

What has all this to do with infertility? The story of redemption gives us a new lens through which to view all suffering. The experience of one person or one couple does not define God’s work, however much suffering might tempt us to see it that way. Instead, suffering is an inherent part of the “already/not yet” in which we find ourselves: already experiencing redemption through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and our life by the Spirit, not yet tasting ultimate kingdom victory over brokenness.

Of course we cannot expect that every infertile couple will experience the birth of their own biological child. But having this broader perspective of a life-giving God, side-by-side with the present reality of suffering, sets the sting of infertility in a broader context. Mystery and pain remain, but even they are not the final word: that is reserved for our Lord Jesus Christ. A couple’s cries arising from infertility resound with all of creation’s groaning, ironically, in the “pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves … groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for … the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:22-23).

The Culture’s Need to Have Mastery

In contrast, consider a contemporary and medical view of infertility. Ask young adults in the western world what their dreams of family include and you will find that the majority see themselves becoming parents. Granted, motives for becoming parents are invariably mixed – a need to “pass on life,” a wish to nurture someone, “an investment in the future.” But whatever the motives, most couples assume that they will experience biological parenthood. Often, a subtle, very modern assumption lies just beneath the surface of these desires and plans: That fertility is a natural, and therefore guaranteed, medical “right.” And why not? If other problems of the human body arise (infection, broken bones, crooked teeth), our society judges the difficulties to be biological and pursues quick and effective medical treatment. If one physician cannot provide satisfaction, we seek a second opinion. More tests, more scans, until we arrive at a diagnosis and secure treatment. Mastery over the disease process becomes the only acceptable outcome.

And, insofar as we look to mastery and treatment as the basis of hope, we have placed a “desperate faith in medicine” (Stanley Hauerwas). We have little patience for the process, even less tolerance for the unknown, and certainly no love for mystery, particularly the dark mysteries of suffering. A solution, please—quickly, the first time, and with little or no pain involved. Has mastery—modernity’s myth of progress—subtly percolated into Christian homes as well? Infertility forces the issue of suffering and mystery back into the lives of many couples and their friends. If Western evangelical culture has come to expect a relatively pain and problem-free life of “blessing,” then perhaps we have lost the ability to endure suffering not only with grace, but also with others.

This is not to say that a modern scientific perspective fails to appreciate the complexities of the human reproductive system. Who could forget the junior high movie detailing the beginning of life? Millions of sperm swimming upstream for a single one’s rendezvous with the tiny awaiting egg. Many may recall the astounding, high definition photographs published in Life magazine, documenting the moment of fertilization. So much knowledge has been gained in the fields of reproductive science in just the past 50 years: Watson and Crick, the double helix, the human genome project, genetic engineering. We absolutely live in a different world from that of our parents. Infertility, however, reminds us that knowledge is by no means equivalent to mastery, and control over the beginnings of human life remains elusive in spite of all our efforts. Still, with the scientific knowledge that God, in His providence, has allowed humans to discover, we often approach the condition of infertility with the assumption that medical advances should be able to eradicate this common problem. Statistics confirm that almost one out of eight couples in the United States will be diagnosed as “infertile.”

The frequency of this situation makes it almost certainly a problem that pastors will encounter within their congregations, and a life situation that many Christians will either experience, or be called on to comfort and counsel friends. Once a diagnosis is made, a couple confronts a staggering array of treatments; there are as many as 38 options for “assisted reproductive technologies.” At our current level of knowledge, specialists claim that 85-90% of fertility problems are resolvable by conventional medical and/or surgical means (everything from clearing blocked fallopian tubes, to induction of ovulation, to the many varieties of in vitro fertilization–IVF). This, of course, is good news. But it is still not the guarantee of natural childbirth we have come to expect, and, more importantly, still not free from suffering or from the necessary soul-searching treatment process. How can the Christian community minister to couples who face infertility?

The Church’s Response: Ministry

 Infertile couples face at least two difficult dilemmas: commitment to unborn life and financial cost. These questions require balance and wisdom. Some forms of treatment present profound ethical dilemmas. For example, couples who begin treatments involving fertilization of eggs outside the uterus face hard questions about the manipulation of embryos, including the storage of embryos not used in treatment. Treatments such as surrogacy introduce emotional and spiritual dynamics that should enter in to consideration of treatments. The Christian community should prayerfully support couples in their search for faithfulness with regards to “promising” medical treatments. Our 21st century culture has largely offered an understanding of reproduction as explainable and predictable, able to be engineered and maneuvered. Christians considering infertility treatment are well advised not to think immediately of modern medicine or procedures – from which so many have benefited – but to look around at our contemporary culture, and to re-confess as His children that God is the sole author and sustainer of life, mysterious though it is. He does not abandon us in our sufferings, but meets us in them. Resting in this profound biblical truth provides a sustainable foundation for a painful journey through infertility.

Then there are the financial costs. Testing and treatment are expensive, anywhere from a low of $50 or $100 for basic monthly medications, to $5,000-$15,000 per cycle of IVF. Most insurers do not cover the full costs of treatment. How much expense is justifiable in the pursuit of achieving pregnancy? It’s an agonizing question, and can never be answered with a concrete dollar amount. But it’s worth pondering. Some couples simply do not have financial means to follow their “dreams” very far. And, just because a couple is wealthy, should they have greater opportunity to bear a child? Clearly, children are a treasure given to us by God himself (Psalm 127:3), and their worth is inestimable! However, financial constraints can spell a bitter reality for a childless couple; how will the Christian community respond?

 An additional financial question is that of adoption. In light of the potential high cost of treatments such as IVF, couples might consider (1) foster-care adoptions, which involve less cost, and, (2) private or international adoptions, which vary in costs but generally incur expenses within the range of one to three IVF cycles. Individual couples need to consider prayerfully their own financial situations and seek counsel from wise spiritual mentors.

A Community Matter

How should the Christian community effectively engage those suffering from infertility? Isn’t it strange that we talk about “community” here? Infertility is a private matter, isn’t it? Couples who have gone through infertility describe the event as isolating and “identity-dominating.” Millicent Feske writes of infertility coming to “define your whole life. That’s who you become.” This suffering has the capacity to overwhelm a couple, to consume their time, resources, emotional energy and identity. The Christian community must step in to these stories of pain, loneliness and identity-crisis and affirm life—not just the life of the longed-for child, but the lives of those walking through the valley of suffering. We do this when we live out a theology of suffering which does not deny the pain, but puts it in the broader story of redemption. Moreover, by bearing suffering graciously and in community, we set ourselves against our society’s exaltation of medicine and pursuit of a suffering-free life. David Powlison rightly notes that our culture idolizes youth, health and energy – which for our purposes might be defined as fertility and virility, health to propagate the human race. Infertility is a stark, monthly reminder of mortality and weakness. Infertile couples come to live with an issue that is beyond their control, and their situation is a vivid reminder to us all of the stubborn truth our culture would rather conveniently forget: that humans do not control our lives or the world. Suffering in a godly way, waiting on God to act, can have the effect of producing wisdom, humility and patience (see James 1:2-5) – virtues desperately needed in the world. Infertile couples may have grown in just these areas.

And for the couples going through the suffering of infertility: Remember that our God is One who brings life and promise. An expanded appreciation of the story of redemption, and an understanding of the corporate-ness of our life together in the gospel, may expand our view of how we – even childless – can contribute life to this, our Father’s world. As one couple wrote, “We might never look to someone and say, ‘She has my eyes.’ But God, please make it so that we might look to someone and say, ‘She has my faith.’” We know this well, because it is taken from our journal in 1994. Through our experience we came to confess more resolutely what we now teach our children from the Heidelberg Catechism: that as our Almighty Father, He truly is “able to turn to our good whatever adversity He sends us in this sad world.” The mystery of grace.

Michael and Shareen Kelly live in Philadelphia, where Michael teaches Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, and Shareen works as a pediatrician. They have three children, Matthew, Joel, and Leah. As a family, they are active in community ministries in their neighborhood. They are members of New Life Presbyterian Church (PCA) – Philadelphia, where Michael has served for many years as a Ruling Elder.

February 11, 2012

Ann Voskamp on Joy

Filed under: Notable Quotables — aunthoddy @ 5:00 AM
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No one enters into the real joy of the Lord in spite of the hard times —- but squarely through the door of the hard times. ~Ann Voskamp

October 21, 2011

Suffer

Filed under: Shared Findings — aunthoddy @ 2:26 PM
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Please take a moment and read what Emily says about why it can be a good thing to Suffer.

September 29, 2011

Chosen

Filed under: Contemplations — aunthoddy @ 5:00 AM
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This is a hard thing to write.  I’ve been procrastinating for a long time.  So bear with me…

People like to be chosen.  We’re excited when we get the job.  (And thank God, I did this week!)  We like it when we’re selected for special honors, privileges, and positions.  We love verses that say we are “chosen” by God.  It doesn’t feel any better than that!

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

But God hasn’t chosen us for our own comfort, plans, or purposes.  He’s chosen us to glorify Himself through our lives.  And sometimes the way He accomplishes that is painful.

Isaiah 48:10 Behold, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.

Sometimes, we are chosen to suffer. 

And to show God through our suffering.

2Corinthians 4:7-10 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Am I alone in wanting to opt out?  “No, thank you just the same, God, I’d rather not.  You just keep that ‘lil gift for someone stronger/wiser/older; I’ll pass.”  But that’s not an option.

Several years ago, I prayed a prayer that would change my life.  I didn’t know that at the time, and I don’t know if I would have made the same decision if I had.  I hope so.  I prayed for two things: 1-that God would make me real and genuine.  (I’d had it with faking it and going through the motions.)  2-that God would use me.  That’s it.  Nothing grand or complicated.  Until God took me up on itAnd He had big plans.

1Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Would I have asked to be chosen for infertility?  Nope.  Did I beg for the painful ups and downs of adoption?  You’re crazy if you think so.  I’m no masochist.  I like me, I take care of me, and I like me to feel good.  But I’m not in charge of me.

1Corinthians 6:19-20 …ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body.

So, I’ll continue to pray the same prayer, and trust God to make it all work.  “God does not call the equipped…God equips those He calls.”  And I’ve been called and chosen.

Ro 8:14-39 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.  I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.  And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.  And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.  What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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